The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board is now considering a set of budgets that do not require a middle school merger. Before the budget was voted down on Town Meeting Day, board vice chair Torrey Smith told the press, “We already ripped the Band-Aid off. I highly doubt we will put it back on,” when asked if the board would cancel the merger if the budget was voted down.

However, at the March 12 HUUSD Board meeting, the board appeared to be doing just that: putting the Band-Aid back on. At the meeting on March 12, the board voted to direct the administration to prepare three non-merger-contingent budgets to present at the next meeting on March 25.

Specifically, the board directed the administration to prepare updated versions of budgets 1, 3 and 4 from the original six budget options presented by the administration on January 18.

None of these three budgets require middle school consolidation. Instead, the differences between these budgets have to do with financial savings and restrictions to intradistrict choice (IDC), a policy that allows students to transfer to other schools in the district by choice.

“I want to be really clear about what this is,” said Michelle Baker, finance officer for the school district. “No. 1 is the base budget, the status quo, or what we sometimes term the level service budget.” Budget 3 is “an updated budget that is a reduction of $300,000 with no additional cost for IDC,” and budget 4 is “a budget that is a reduction of $300,000 with no restrictions on IDC,” said Baker.

In other words, these are the new budget options: the same budget as last year, a budget with $300,000 of savings that will not add staff to accommodate more students transferring to Crossett Brook Middle School through IDC, or a a budget with $300,000 that will continue the current IDC policy.

With the merger off the table, figuring out how to approach IDC is the board’s new priority. “We need to be careful in how we vote on this budget around public engagement around IDC. We’ve gotten flack in our last budget for budgeting changes rather than voting on changes at the table and then passing a budget. We have to be very careful and clear with our communication,” said board member Alex Thompsen, Waterbury.

“Just to be clear, you’re talking about a status quo – basically trying to fund what we have without transitioning seventh- and eighth-graders or fifth- and sixth-graders. Is that correct?” asked one member of the public before the vote.

Members of the board nodded in agreement. “OK. I like what I hear. And I think the public will like it also, because it feels like you’re slowing down and making more time for these decisions,” a member of the public responded.